Chamber remains unhappy with Industrial Court

The In­dus­tri­al Court’s re­cent de­ci­sion to dis­con­tin­ue its in­quiry in­to al­le­ga­tions of con­tempt of court raised by the Joint Trade Union Move­ment (JTUM) against the Trinidad and To­ba­go Cham­ber of In­dus­try and Com­merce (TTCIC) has raised more ques­tions than it has pro­vid­ed an­swers ac­cord­ing to a me­dia re­lease yes­ter­day from the T&T Cham­ber of In­dus­try and Com­merce.

The me­dia re­lease said while the Cham­ber is re­lieved that “good sense has pre­vailed” in this mat­ter, a num­ber of “burn­ing is­sues” re­main un­re­solved.

 

In 2016, Gabriel Faria, CEO, T&T Cham­ber of Com­merce and two oth­er men were is­sued with sum­mons to ap­pear be­fore the Court on a charge of con­tempt of court, over state­ments made from the floor by busi­ness­man Frank Mout­tet.

At a Cham­ber event, Mout­tet said the In­dus­tri­al Court was to be blamed for de­creased lev­els of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in the coun­try, which was mak­ing it in­creas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult for em­ploy­ers to ter­mi­nate work­ers. Mout­tet was al­so said to have hint­ed that the court was harsh and op­pres­sive to­wards em­ploy­ers while favour­ing work­ers and their rep­re­sen­ta­tive unions.

JTUM is­sued a full-page ad in the Trinidad Guardian and re­fer­ring to Mout­tet’s com­ments said: “It shows not on­ly a com­plete mis­un­der­stand­ing of the Court, but al­so a gross dis­re­spect for such an im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tion, which was cre­at­ed by statute to me­di­ate and pro­vide some lev­el of sta­bil­i­ty to the in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions cli­mate in our coun­try.”

In yes­ter­day’s me­dia re­lease the T&T Cham­ber said: “The busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty has for a long time been ex­press­ing con­cern about the Court’s judge­ments, many of which they be­lieve to have been ar­bi­trary, un­fair and ir­ra­tional. It was in re­sponse to these per­cep­tions that the Cham­ber held a break­fast meet­ing in No­vem­ber 2016 on ‘The Im­pact of In­dus­tri­al Court Judge­ments On Your Busi­ness.’ A sit­ting In­dus­tri­al Court judge was the fea­tured speak­er and the pan­el dis­cus­sion that fol­lowed in­clud­ed the said judge, a se­nior mem­ber of the Fac­ul­ty of Law (UWI), an in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions con­sul­tant and an in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions at­tor­ney.

“Dur­ing the dis­cus­sion pe­ri­od, var­i­ous par­ties crit­i­cised the Court’s mode of op­er­a­tion, cit­ing ex­am­ples of out­comes that they felt to be whol­ly un­fair. The pre­vail­ing opin­ion was that the in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions en­vi­ron­ment was a con­straint to pro­duc­tiv­i­ty be­cause of em­ploy­ers’ in­abil­i­ty to get fair judge­ments at the Court.”

The me­dia re­lease said fol­low­ing news re­ports on the dis­cus­sion JTUM is­sued a paid ad­ver­tise­ment which al­leged con­tempt of the Court on the part of the Cham­ber and par­tic­i­pat­ing speak­ers.

The Court sub­se­quent­ly “com­mand­ed” the Cham­ber, Gabriel Faria, Frank Mout­tet, and Derek Ali to ap­pear be­fore it in con­nec­tion with an in­quiry in­to a pos­si­ble con­tempt of court and pro­vide as ev­i­dence every con­ceiv­able form of record­ed ma­te­r­i­al re­lat­ed to the break­fast meet­ing.

“In the months that fol­lowed, the Cham­ber and the three gen­tle­men in­curred hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in le­gal fees prepar­ing for a Court’s in­quiry. JTUM re­quest­ed and were al­lowed to be a par­ty to the in­quiry. Two years and eight months lat­er they have failed to pro­vide a sin­gle state­ment or any ev­i­dence in sup­port of their claim.”

The me­dia re­lease said the Court’s Au­gust 7th or­der to dis­con­tin­ue the in­quiry has, ac­cord­ing to the Court, re­sult­ed from JTUM’s fail­ure to re­spond and this out­come has left the Cham­ber “even more dis­sat­is­fied with the Court than it was be­fore.”

“The In­dus­tri­al Court sum­moned the TTCIC (and two pri­vate cit­i­zens) to an in­quiry that stemmed from a state­ment by JTUM al­leg­ing con­tempt of court by in­di­vid­u­als who ques­tioned The Court’s rul­ings in a pub­lic fo­rum. Should the Court have the right to be judge and ju­ry in a mat­ter re­lat­ed to its own im­par­tial­i­ty? Do cit­i­zens of T&T, have a right to voice opin­ions on the op­er­a­tions of the in­sti­tu­tions of the coun­try? The Court’s de­ci­sion to dis­con­tin­ue its in­quiry has left this con­cern un­re­solved. Where, for ex­am­ple, is the line drawn be­tween free­dom of ex­pres­sion and con­tempt? Isn’t free speech a ba­sic tenet of a func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy?” the Cham­ber asked.

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